This 2009 movie stars Julia Roberts, Clive Owen and Paul Giamatti. The opening scene is a party at the US Consulate in Dubai 0n 4 July 2003 where Roberts and Owen meet and introduce themselves as Theresa Corrando and Jimmy Tierney. From this moment, I had a suspicion this film would disappoint because I can never forget what a Literature teacher said: the main characters of a good story don’t appear at the beginning.

True enough, the story pans to the Grand Central Terminal five years later, where Owen loses track of Roberts. Is Roberts working for “Mossad, the Syrians, the Russians or the CIA”? She is a Equikrom spy as well as the Assistant Director of Counterintellegence. At one meeting, she is told: “We’re here today becuase we find ourselves in a world where duplicity and theft are rested daily as replacements for innovation and perseverance.”

Then the camera pans to Rome, two years ago. Owen sees Roberts from a roadside cafe and follows her. They go to a hotel for three days and they both miss their flights for their respective assignments. They then decide to go private, in partnership. Owen ‘bumps’ into a Barbara Boffered at a pub and gains access to the offices of Buckett and Randall, which will be rolling out a new product but keeping the scope, the details and the existence of this project in great confidentiality.

Next, it’s London, eighteen months ago. Owen visits Roberts at the hotel where they had made a prior appointment. They end up quarelling.

Almost abruptly, in Maimi, fourteen months ago, Roberts take on a job without Owen, and he discovers she is actually Ms Claire Stenwick. We now know his name is actually Ray Koval.

Then, at Cleveland, three months ago, a total corporate war takes place over something big.

In Zurich, twelve hours earlier, at the airport cafe, Claire and Ray meet to split a $35 million reward for stealing a formula which they sold to the Swiss businessman, Richard Garsik (played by Paul Giamatti), CEO of Project Samson, in the final testing stages for a product that can restore hair foillcles, a cure for baldness. However, it turns out that what they stole was a bogus formula for a common cream, a lotion.

Then, the viewer is shown how, ten days earlier, Claire and Ray were captured on camera (hidden at the cornice of the ceiling).

The final scene shows both of them beiing served champagne while waiting at the hotel lobby with their luggage. At least they had each other.

I usually enjoy movies that star Julia Roberts or Clive Owen, but I was disappointed with this one. I did not like the way the time frame worked – opening with an exact date, then simply ‘five years later’ next, and suddenly switching to ‘two years ago’, and so on. It is confusing! The plot is not exciting either. The visuals and editing are very good, though. And I especially like the song during the End Credits, in particular the accompanying guitar parts. The other songs (about eight of them) are unfamiliar and not so impressive as they did not do much to enhance the mood or atmosphere.

Obsession Falls

Having recently read Christina Dodd’s Virtue Falls, of course I picked out this sequel-of-sorts without hesitation. This latest novel (published 2015) takes place in the same little town called Virtue Falls in Washington, an idyllic place which holds close its secrets. Taylor Summers returns to Wildrose Valley to visit her childhood home that she had left when she was ten years old when her parents divorced. Instead of reminiscising about her childhood at her father’s ranch, she witnesses a kidnapping and an impending killing. To save the young boy, she distracts the killers; as a result, she loses everything (including her career, her reputation and her identity) and is on the run, barely surviving a brutal winter.

The pace is quick, with each chapter consisting of four to five pages, and this style of writing draws this reader into the story as though watching a suspense movie. Before long (about ninety pages), Part 1 ended.

At Virtue Falls, Summers manages to find a temporary job as a serve staff and runs into the killer and witnesses him being shot by the mastermind. This second part, barely thirty pages, ends and in the next twenty pages we find Summers has somehow stumbled upon a kind librarian in town. (Part 3 is called “The New Girl In Town”.) This brings us to Part 4: The Game, where Summers takes on a pseudonym. This is the bulk of the story – all the way to the end (approximately 250 pages). It is an absolute thrill ride. There is a twist at the end which makes me think there may be another sequel.

Between The Covers

This 2001 documentary is about Danielle Steel, one of the world’s most successful novelists (who has sold more than four hundred million copies of her more-than-seventy novels in several languages), a multi-millionaire many times over, a very private woman who fiercely guards her personal life. However, the secrets of that life could often be found between the pages of her books.

There are interviews with her co-workers and her friends, and footage of old photographs and places connected with Danielle Steel. One thing that stands out is that she is often looking for the love of her life.

Born in 1947 in New York, Danielle’s parents were separated soon after. She was often sent to boarding schools or left alone at the home of one of her parents. This loneliness is reflected in her books, for example “Loving” (1980).

In 1964, the seventeen-year-old Danielle got engaged to a man eight years older; they married the following year. The wedding was held in a splendid Catholic church (there are lots of video footage here); the reception was held at an equally impressive hotel which is featured in many of Danielle’s books. After the honeymoon, back to New York, on 10 Jan 1968, twenty-year-old Danielle gave birth to Beatrice. She spent a lot of time travelling and living a lavish lifestyle. She fell in love with San Franscisco, which changed her life. As she could speak seven languages, she got a job offer three months later, which gave her the confidence that she could have her own career.

Danielle Steel’s daytime persona was quite different from that she played outside of her working hours. She gave grand dinner parties, circulated, and took longer and longer trips to California without her husband, which was odd. In 1970, Danielle and her husband officially separated.

In 1973, her first novel, “Going Home” was published. (It was re-edited eight times before it was finally accepted by the publisher.) It is reminiscent of her own life, about a single mother who leaves New York for San Fransisco. Living in San Franscisco was a turning point of her life and she met a man who was to be her second husband. She worked as a freelance editor and started work on her second novel.

Danielle Steel was a private person but her readers read about her life experiences in her books.

Her 1978 novel, “Now and Forever” drew on the relationship with this man who was her second husband. They married in September 1975,  but in typical Danielle-fashion, she went to San Francisco and became interested in the rehabilitation programme for ex-prisoners.

In 1977, while giving talks to ex-addicts, Danielle met an ex-drug addict and divorced her second husband. When she married for the third time in Spring 1978, she was eight months pregnant. Sadly, the bubble soon burst: the marriage broke down in May 1978 and the pain is told in her book, “Remembrance” (1981).

Soon, she met somebody and got engaged in early 1981 and married in the summer of the same year. It was a simple, lovely ceremony; this marriage produced five children.

By now, more than nineteen books had been published and Danielle Steel was already a multi-millionaire. She then decided to write a book with seven voices (with her friends), called “Having A Baby” (1984). In it, she recounted her miscarriage. Between 1983 and 1987, Danielle had four children; she now had the large family she always dreamed of.

With nine children, Danielle Steel’s family and career were thriving, yet she wanted more. In Oct 1980, her book was broadcast on TV as a popular series ‘Fine Things’. Her books appeal because she writes about the sense of self and humour about self and life, most of the interesting things we have to deal with in everyday life.

Danielle Steel lived in a mansion that had 75 – 80 rooms, and lived an extravagant and opulent lifestyle. However, her marriage was on the rocks. After fourteen years, she split from her husband in 1991. She met a man 15 years older but their relationship ended after a couple of years.

This was an exciting time for Danielle because her eldest daughter Beatrice got married in a beautiful Catholic church, which inspired the book “The Wedding” (2000), describing her experience.

Her son, who had a troubled childhood and suffered from terrible depression, died in Oct 1997 of heroine overdose. It is like life imitated art. Feelings of a grieving mother is recounted in “The Ranch” (1997). In another book, “His Bright Light”, Danielle Steel wrote about the story of her son (with his photo on the cover).

Danielle married again in 1998 for the fifth time. It lasted only seventeen months. In the same year, her book “The Long Road Home” was published.

A newspaper headline declared:

“Love Means Never Having To Say Forever – Danielle Steel, one of the world’s most popular novelists, is living a life worthy of her own sagas” because something that does not last does not mean it’s something that’s not valuable.

Old Enough To know Better … Young Enough Not To Care

This is a charming, pocket-size book by Sarah Boddy about midlife. Within the pages are wonderful cartoons and quotes about the joys of getting older, being old and everything in between. It helps the reader to embrace the ups and downs of ageing. Some quotes are:

  • The young man knows the rules but the old man knows the exceptions. (Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.)
  • Just remember. once you’re over the hill, you begin to pick up speed. (Charles M. Schulz)
  • To stop ageing – keep on raging. (Michael Forbes)
  • No wise man ever wished to be young. (Jonathan Swift)
  • When it comes to staying young, a mindlift beats a facelift any day. (Marty Bucella)
  • Middle age is when your age starts to show around your middle. (Bob Hope)
  • We do not stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing. (George Bernard Shaw)
  • You don’t get older, you get better. (Shirley Bassey)
  • Laughter doesn’t require teeth. (Bill Newton)
  • The key to successful ageing is to pay as little attention to it as possible. (Judith Regan)

All the colourful cartoons come with captions, such as:

  • Midlife, glass half empty feeling? Time for a top-up! (Man filling up a mug of beer from a barrel as large as him.)
  • Old enough to know better, drunk enough not to care! (Woman lying on a sofa with tilted wine glass, husband dancing with spilling wine glass, lamp shade as head accessory, standing lamp with lit bulb as microphone stand and microphone.)

Some of the cartoons are downright funny and impossible to describe in words (but the captions are as follows):

  • Gravity can sometimes get in the way of a good time!
  • Of course I’m in shape -isn’t round a shape?
  • It’s important to exercise your pelvic floror regularly.
  • The inbetweens: too old to be irresponsible, too young to be eccentric!
  • I bought some skinny jeans but they don’t work!
  • They say love is blind, shame it still has a sense of hearing!
  • She knew she was getting older when she tried to straighten the wrinkles in her tights and discovered she wasn’t wearing any!

This is a good read anytime, anywhere.


Zen Haiku

A Friend of the Library recently recommended this book, an illustrated edition, selected and translated by Jonathan Clements.

Haiku is a short Japanese verse that is traditionally composed of seventeen syllables in three lines – the shortest form of poetry in the world. This collection contains a hundred haiku from masters such as Matsuo Basho (1644-1649), the most famous haiku poet from the 17th century, and Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827).

The poems are grouped into four sections linked to the times of the day – DAWN (anticipation), DAYLIGHT (bright energy), DUSK (melancholy) and MOONLIGHT (silent reflection). These are accompanied by Japanese prints and panitings, and at the back of the book is a selection of notes (including Clements’ comments and interpretations) to the poems.

Because the poems have been translated from the Japanese, the haiku poems here do not consist of 17 syllables in 3 lines, something I’m not used to; and therefore, to me, these are just  beautifully written short poems. What I enjoy more are the exquisite paintings that accompany them!


High Strung



I went to watch this movie with NO expectation other that lots of music and close-ups of violin playing and ballet because the trailer I had seen three weeks ago hinted of a flimsy plot and the Straits Times didn’t even bother to print a review of this movie. I had also not seen a single poster at any cinema (or anywhere).

The opening scene is a close-up of Johnnie (Nicholas Galitzini, described as ‘moody, edgy, eccentric, cute and sexy-fierce’ by one of the charcarters) playing the violin and zoomed in on the tattoo on his inner left arm, sforzando (an Italian term meaning ‘suddenly loud’). The next scene shows his neighbours, a group of hip hop dancers (one of whom looks uncannily like a young Will Smith) practising. The dancing is superbly good!

Ruby (Kennan Kampa), a scholarship student in dance, arrives at the Metropolitan Centre of Arts (MCA) in New York for an interview with the executive director (nicknamed an ‘uptight witch’ by students). There’s a grand piano in her office!

This is followed by Johnnie basking at a subway. When a train arrives, a group of commuters go straight up to a group of maintenance workers to pick a fight. As far as the plot goes, this is a flimsy excuse to get the two groups to ‘show off’ their fantastic dance moves and slick cheography, which again are incredibly good! When they leave, one guy snatches Johnnie’s violin and escapes. Johnnie is understandably very upset, especially since this violin, a Guarneri (second only to the Stradivari family, the finest violin makers in the world), gifted by his late grandfather.

Johnnie turns out to be an illegal immigrant from Britain and is cheated by a rogue attorney. Ruby has a hard time because to her, contemporary dance is ‘like G I Joe jazz’ and the dance instructor is especially tough on her because ‘she is so talented’.

Ruby stumbles upon the place at MCA that repairs string instruments and loans instruments to students  when a violin student ‘broke his bow playing Bartok‘ (a Hungarian composer, 1881-1945, whose works are known for their chromatic ornamentation, repeating notes and passages based on an alternating pattern, asymmetrical formations, polymodality and complex configurations). She proceeds to borrow a violin for Johnnie so that he can take part in the Peterson Foundation Violin and Dance Competition where the winner gets $25,000, a full scholarship adn qualifies for student visa. However, Johnnie claims he prefers to play in the subway because ‘I play what I want when I want. Music is lilke dance. It’s a link to the soul. It can make people laugh and cry. It can inspire. With a power like that, why not share with the world?’

Ruby and her roommate go to a pub to unwind. There, a Celtic Band and a group of Irish Step dancers play and dance to a medley of beloved dance tunes. This scene is beautifully done; there is even music by Chopin, at which point, the scene is back at the dance studio at MCA.

On another day, Ruby and her friends attend an Opera Gala night where Johnnie temps as a waiter at the pre-concert cocktail reception. The Aria is very familiar, but before I can recall the title, it switches to tango music. Then, somehow, Johnnie gets into a violin ‘duel’ with another MCA student named Carl. There’s plenty of close-ups here, so this scene is a real treat (for violin and music lovers)! [Others will probably call it an ‘idiotic macho stunt’.]

Abruptly, the next scene shows Johnnie being hauled to the police station when he is heading to the competition venue. He agrees to assist in the investigatiion of the rogue attorney but ‘there’s somewhere I need to be right now’.

While Ruby and the hip hop dance friends worry about Johnnie’s not showing up, Carl and his group give a wonderful performance, complete with six ballet dancers, a string ensemble and virtuosic displays on the violin. Predictably, Johnnie shows up at the very last second, and goes on to perform his original composition ‘Sforzando’ with Ruby and his hip hop dancing friends. Also, to be expected, their performance is so stunning that the audience is struck dumb when the performance ends, before erupting into wild cheers and bursting into thunderous applause. Also, of course, Johnnie wins the prize which he declares he would share with his group, ‘without whom this would not have been possible’.

Despite the predictable, thin plot, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie for it contains music aplenty. All the dancing is also a feast for the eyes. I never knew classical ballet and hip hop dancing can be put together so convincingly and successfully. As two characters say on three occasions, ‘sometimes people can surprise you’!

The Quotable Musician : From Bach To Tupac

This book, by Shiela E. Anderson, contains more than a thousand quotations by the famous and not-so-famous from every genre of music – including classical, rock, Latin, country, blues and hip hop – on a wealth of topics. Here are some of them:

On The Definition of Music:

  • True music must repeat the thought and inspiration of the people and the time. (George Gershwin)

On Identity:

  • If the music is eccentric, I have to be. Anybody talented in any way – they’re called eccentric. (Thelonious Monk)

On Composing:

  • The secret of writing a good popular song is to make it melodically simple and harmonically attractive. (Jules Styne)

On The Effects Of Music:

  • There is no feeling, except the extremes of fear and grief, that does not find relief in music. (George Eliot)

On Performing and Rehearsing:

  • If I don’t practise for one day, I know it; if I don’t practise for two days, the critics know it; if I don’t practise for three days, the audience know it. (Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Cellist)

On Humour:

  • What comes first, the melody or the lyric? The check! (Richard Rogers)

On Spirituality:

  • Music is self-expression. Singing is how I pray, and the music is my religion. (Chaka Khan)

On Living, Aging and Dying:

  • The death of Mozart before he had passed his 35th year is perhaps the greatest loss the musical world had ever suffered. (Edvard Grieg)

On Conducting:

  • No other movement is so consequential. (David Hazeltine, Pianist)

On Rejection and Failure:

  • Rejection is the greatest aphrodisiac. (Madonna)

On Success, Fame and Fortune:

  • Do you know what the secret of success is? Be yourself and have some fun. (Tito Puenete, to Awilda Revera)

On Other Musicians:

  • Bach is like an astronomer who, with the help of ciphers, finds the most wonderful stars — Beethoven embraced the universe with the power of his spirit — I do not climb so high. A long time ago, I decided that my universe will be the soul and heart of man. (Frederick Chopin)

On Love:

  • Music is love in search of another word. (Sidney Lanier)

On Wisdom:

  • Mediocrity is the enemy of excellence. (Bobby Sanabria, Percussionist)

On Musical Genres:

  • Country music is three chords and the truth. (Harlan Howard)

On Cynicism:

  • Too many pieces of music finish too long after the end. (Igor Stravinsky)

On The Nature Of Music:

  • I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.
    (Billy Joel)

On Song:

  • Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought. (Percy Bysshe Shelley)

On Greatness:

  • I never wanted to be famous, I only wanted to be great! (Ray Charles)

On Society:

  • Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul. Musical innovations is full of danger in the state, for when modes of music change, the laws of the state always change with them. (Plato)

On Critics and Criticism:

  • Composers often tell you that they don’t read criticisms of their work… I am an exception. I admit to a curiosity about the slightest clue as to the meaning of a piece of music – a meaning, that is, other than the one I know I have put there. (Aaron Copland)

On Perspectives and Opinions:

  • You don’t need any brains to listen to music. (Luciano Pavarotti)

On Music As Art:

  • Music is the art of thinking with sounds. (Jules Combarieu)

This book is interesting, informative and addictive! There must be (if not, there should be) another volume similar to this delightful collection!

Endless Love (2014)

The lead actors, Alex Pettyfer and Gabriella Wilde are unknown to me, but I was drawn to this DVD because it is based on the book by Scott Sperner that was first adapted in an ’80s movie that I enjoyed. (If I remember correctly, it starred Brooke Shields.)

There are about twenty new songs for this version but none I like as much as the one written by Lionel Ritchie and sung by Diana Ross.

A Week At The Lake

This is the latest book by Wendy Wax, whose novels The House On Mermaid Point, While We Were Watching Downton Abbey, Ocean Beach, Ten Beach Road, Magnolia Wednesdays and The Accidental Bestseller I’ve really enjoyed reading.

A cottage at Lake George is where Emma Michaels, actress of romantic comedies, retreats to whenever she needs to get away from New York CIty. Two such occasions were when she divorced her husband sixteen years earlier and when she divorced her parents when she was only 14. Mackenzie Hayes has a degree and career in fashion design. She has been approached about putting together a book comprising her best posts from her blog, Married Without Children. She writes about how sweet a life could be even without children in it and how much more time and energy a couple could give each other when their family comprised of only two. Serena Stockton is a successful voice actress. Both she and Mackenzie are fairy godmothers to Emma’s 15-year-old daughter Zoe. They have arranged to meet at the Lake House, the first time in five years, when they had previously met every year for ten years, since their friendship started.

However, Emma meets with a horrific accident and is in a coma. It is only about a hundred pages later (about three weeks) that Emma wakes up and all of them go to the Lake House for Emma’s rehabilitation from her blood clot and sepsis. Yet the writing is so clever and heartwarming that it does not feel that it’s already one-third way into the novel and there is still not a single hint about the discovery of a “long-ago betrayal” (by Emma) mentioned in the blurb!

For the next third of the novel, many things seem to be out of kilter: Besides Emma’s slow and steady recovery, Mackenzie’s husband achieves his closet-held dream which brings about a change in their marriage. Serena faces an old hurt. The three women, unintentionally, hurl words at each other. Yet Emma has still yet to share her secret with Serena and Mackenzie. What is the truth? Is is overrated?

This retreat has been a prime example of how quickly things can change. In it is also a lesson that having people you love and who you love is more important than anything else. About 50 pages before the end, the secret is out (and not revealed by Emma). But I had guessed it about 50 pages earlier, so it was no surprise to me. Yet I was eager to find out how the story would end.

Happiness isn’t something that just occurs. It is incredibly important to tell the truth though you can’t always control how it will be received. Real lilfe is messy and filled with all kinds of mistakes and heartaches. Friendships and relationchips can be complicated. Change is never easy, but it can be revealing.


Thanks for Sharing (2014)

This movie tells the story of three men (played by Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robinson and Josh Gad) through their friendship and their struggles. It’s also about how they are better when they are together than as individuals. It is a life-changing journey filled with laughter and surprises, yet there is a sense of realism, like these are people we know. It’s funny, clever and dramatic – uncomfortable comedy mixed with serious drama – and also heart-breaking.

A bonus is the music – there are many songs, including some nice pop songs and originals, but the ones I like best are the two classical pieces by J S Bach Partita No 1 (piano solo) and Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No 4.

I enjoyed this movie so much that I watched it a second time!